For the 12th-straight time, the USC vs. Cal score looked similar. The Trojans came out on top again, on the backs of a sound defensive effort for a 27-21 win. They are now 3-2 in Pac-12 play.
The lowdown: Jared Goff and the Cal Bears got out to a hot start on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, completing the first nine pass attempts and taking an early 7-0 lead. From then on however, USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox made adjustments, slowed down both Cal’s passing and running game and started to mount pressure on Goff. The Bears would go nearly 30 game minutes between scores, while the Trojans scored 24-straight points. That included another electrifying performance from running back Ronald Jones and Adoree’ Jackson’s first career interception, which was returned for a touchdown. Cal would make a late comeback attempt after the Trojans struggled to kill off the game on offense, while saddled with an injury to wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. But with USC up 27-21 in the final minutes, running back Tre Madden picked up a 3rd down & 1 with a second-effort run. It sealed the game and puts the Trojans just one win shy of bowl eligibility.
Takeaway: It wasn’t always pretty, but the Trojans stuck with their game plan of trying to minimize big plays and contain the Bear Raid offense. It worked, as USC held Cal to 6.4 yards per play and only amassed three drives of 55 yards or more. Offensively however, the rhythm was sporadic for the Trojans. They had all of the momentum in the world during the middle quarters, but couldn’t quite close the game out on offense. That was partly tied to Clay Helton’s decision to sit star running back Ronald Jones II for long stretches, despite him averaging eight yards per carry. Then there was the fact that quarterback Cody Kessler had to operate without his favorite weapon JuJu Smith-Schuster, who left the game with a fractured hand. Put it all together and the USC offense once again couldn’t land the killshot that they did last week against Utah.
Player of the game: True freshman receiver Deontay Burnett had his biggest impact in Berkeley, recording three catches for 82 yards. One of those catches was on a reverse pass from Jalen Greene.
Stat of the game: Clay Helton has coached the Trojans four games now, dating back to the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State. In those four games, USC has had a scoring run of 21-0 or better in all four games. Saturday against Cal, they scored 24 consecutive points after Cal opened the scoring with a 7-0 lead.
Next on tap: After winning two-straight Pac-12 games for the first time in almost a year, the Trojans will look to make it three in a row next week at the Coliseum vs. Arizona.